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From the first oyez to the final decision, a look at the high court's process


"Oyez, oyez, oyez!"
The west facade of the Supreme Court. (Photo by Mike Waring, U-M Washington, D.C. office)

The chant by the court marshal at the U.S. Supreme Court is a call for attention as the nine justices in their black robes enter the courtroom. At 10 a.m. April 1, this chant will start the session of two hours of oral arguments in the U-M affirmative action cases. Legal scholars will listen closely to questions from the justices for any hints of how they may vote in the historic case that could affect the use of race in university admissions across the country.

The oral arguments are open to the public, but no cameras or audio recording devices are permitted inside. An audio tape of the proceedings will be released to the
media immediately following the hearing. The audio will be available online sometime in the future at http://www.oyez.org/cases/cases.cgi.

Each side gets 30 minutes in each of the two hours. The first hour begins with Kirk Kolbo, attorney for Barbara Grutter, an unsuccessful applicant for admission to the Law School. Grutter claims that she is the victim of reverse discrimination, which the University denies. Kolbo is expected to reiterate key points from a written brief submitted earlier. He will speak for 20 minutes, and the remaining 10 minutes for his side will be used by Theodore Olsen, the Bush administration's solicitor general.

Maureen Mahoney then will argue in defense of U-M policy, which was upheld by lower courts. She is an attorney from the Latham & Watkins law firm and a former clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Sometime before the end of June the court is expected to publish its decisions in the two cases.

At 11 a.m., David Herr, an attorney for Jennifer Gratz, an unsuccessful applicant for admission to LSA, will speak for 20 minutes followed by Olsen for another 10 minutes, again in opposition to U-M policy. Then attorney John Payton, of the law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, speaks in support of the U-M policy.

Among the key issues in the cases are whether racial and ethnic diversity is a compelling government interest that justifies the use of affirmative action in admissions, and if so, whether U-M's use of race is narrowly tailored to achieve that goal.

The justices usually take a preliminary vote on cases on the Friday after oral arguments. The justice who writes the majority opinion explaining the outcome is assigned by the chief justice if he is in the majority, or by the senior justice in the majority if the chief is in the minority.

Sometime before the end of June the court is expected to publish its decisions in the two cases, Grutter v. Bollinger (the Law School case) and Gratz v. Bollinger (the LSA case).

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